Cap Space Aplenty II: The Detroit Red Wings
The NHL free agency market opens up at noon eastern time on July 1. The Red Wings find themselves in a much more favorable spot then they were in pre-NHL Draft.
Ken Holland was able to off load Pavel Datsyuk's contract to the Arizona Coyotes after it was announced he would be returning home to Russia foregoing the final year of his NHL contract.
With that move, the Red Wings find themselves with around $18 million in cap space according to General Fanager. Johan Franzen's ~$4 million cap hit counts against that number right now, however should he be placed on Long Term Injured Reserve again due to his concussion issues he will allow the Red Wings to exceed the cap of $73 million by no more than his cap hit.
Some of that $18 million will go to their restricted free agents. Danny Dekeyser and Petr Mrazek look to be in line for healthy pay raises, while Alexey Marchenko and Teemu Pulkkinen are also in line for new deals.
The Red Wings have minor needs all over the place. Top six scoring and defensive depth in the top four being two big ones. The Red Wings also appear to be bracing for a world without Darren Helm, so add some penalty killing to that list if it happens.
The only position that seems set coming in to free agency is goaltender with Petr Mrazek and Jimmy Howard set to come back in 2016-17.
The biggest piece of the free agent market is no longer a free agent though, Steven Stamkos signed an 8-year deal with the Tampa Bay Lightning. With that in mind though the Red Wings have plenty of other options they can attempt to sign to bolster their roster in 2016-17.
Top Six Forwards
C Frans Nielsen (New York Islanders). Many people believe Kyle Okposo to be the best free agent available now that Stamkos has re-signed with the Lightning. However, this article from nhl.com lists Nielsen as the best available free agent for power play scoring (better than Stamkos at PP points per 60 minutes), shootout ability, and one of the best in drawing penalties (Darren Helm took the top spot there). With a powerplay that floundered at 4% in the playoffs and a dismal 6-15 record in shootouts over the past two seasons it seems like a no-brainer to grab the 32-year-old center. His age doesn't show either as he's missed seven games in the last three seasons with the Islanders.
RW Kyle Okposo (New York Islanders). The same NHL article that heaped praise onto Nielsen also heaps praise onto Okposo as the best playmaker in this free agent class and he's also one of the best even strength scorers as well. At six feet 216 pounds he provides size up front but he's not generally known as a full on agitator, so look for him to give skill more than sandpaper. With the money he's set to receive from somebody, this is a good thing. Okposo has averaged over 60 points a season his last three years.
LW Milan Lucic (Los Angeles). Danny DeKeyser's manhood might have something to say about this one but hear it out. Lucic is a known agitator and can also score 20 goals a year. He embodies what Detroit fans loved in guys like Darren McCarty and Kris Draper, the ability to get in an opponents face, and shut them down while having offensive presence. Look at it another way, Red Wings fans hated Jordin Tootoo when he was the team pest for Nashville, but get him on your team and you gain an appreciation for him (so long as he produces). It is reported that Lucic is deciding between his hometown Canucks and the Oilers but the Red Wings and their cap space could play a factor.
D Justin Schultz (Pittsburgh). 25, soon to be 26 years old, a right handed defenseman and an unrestricted free agent after he wasn't presented a qualifying offer by the Pittsburgh Penguins. He appeared in 15 games for the Stanley Cup champs after being traded mid season from Edmonton. There's a lot to like about this guy, except maybe his price tag. The Penguins wanted him to take a cut from the $3.9 million cap hit he took last year, on the open market, don't expect that to happen.
D Jason Demers (Dallas). Another right handed shooting defenseman under the age of 30, Demers has great offensive ability with a +608 CORSI rating (net shots attempted while on the ice) last year. His playmaking and even strength scoring ability is heralded as the best in this class among defenseman. His $3.4 million cap hit from last season also looks to rise from somebody this summer.
D Luke Schenn (Los Angeles). There's a theme here that Schenn also fits into, under 30, right handed shooting defenseman. The Red Wings were desperate to add someone like this last year and got Mike Green, Alexey Marchenko made his way through Grand Rapids to get on to the NHL squad and adding a third guy like that would help round out the blue line from a handedness perspective. Nothing really jumps out off the page for Schenn however, he's probably going to be seen as a depth guy in this free agent class, he will still get paid though, make no mistake.
D Roman Polak (San Jose). Penalty Killing is the name of Polak's game. A key penalty killer in San Jose's first ever Stanley Cup final appearance killing 82.5% of penalties in the process while facing some of the league's most potent offenses along the way. Polak has averaged nearly three minutes of penalty kill time a game over his last three seasons, and was a part of the 2nd best penalty kill until in the league when he was with St. Louis in 2013-14. He's 30 years old, but still very serviceable.
D Mike Weber (Washington). He's under 30, he's a defenseman, but this one is a left hander. Weber is a good defensive presence who isn't afraid to mix it up with opposing forwards. His 6'2" and 211 pound frame back that point up. Dependability might be a concern though, he hasn't played over 70 games in a season since 2009-10 when he was in the AHL with the Portland Pirates. His +2 rating last season his a vast improvement from -29 and -22 the two years prior, though we should mention he did play for Buffalo during that span.
D Cam Fowler (Anaheim). The Ducks are looking to move Fowler and the Wings have reportedly had conversations about him. Fowler is 24, on a $4 million cap hit for the next 2 years. He has power play presence and he's a kid from Windsor right in Detroit's backyard. There's enough there to believe he's a fit if the price is right.
D Kevin Shattenkirk (St. Louis). Shattenkirk has been aggressively shopped around by St. Louis since before the draft, he's even surprised he hasn't been dealt yet. However the Blues asked for Dylan Larkin in return, the Red Wings smartly said no. The longer Shattenkirk is a Blue the lower the price goes for him and maybe he falls into buyable range for Detroit.
F Steven Stamkos (Tampa Bay). It's not happening. It was previously thought possible by many but take it from the man himself he's happy in Tampa Bay and not going anywhere.
Detroit does have options in their minor league to come up and fill gaps at depth positions should they not fill all the needs they have through free agency. Defensemen Xavier Ouellet and Robbie Russo could shine in camp and crack the NHL roster, and forwards Tyler Bertuzzi and Tomas Nosek fill scoring depth, while Mitch Callahan provides grit and sandpaper the Red Wings have been needing for a while now.
With double digit millions in cap space available to them, it's hard to see the Detroit Red Wings not landing a big time free agent in this class and move themselves into a better position to compete in the Atlantic Division and for the Stanley Cup.